Updated: October 21, 2019 12:46:18 pm
A couple of years ago, after the release of his third film Phuntroo, Marathi filmmaker Sujay Dahake realised that unlike his contemporaries, he had not developed a bond with members of the cast or crew of any of the films he had made. Some probing revealed that some of his colleagues would take offence to his verbal abuse on the sets. He was surprised because to him, his liberal use of adjectives was momentary — so that work gets done on the sets — a practice he picked up while working on his first film, the acclaimed, National Award-winning Shala (2013). “I was too young then. No one on the sets took me seriously until the day I started flinging abuses at them. It then became my way of working. But little did I know that my actions pained them, that they took it all back with them,” he recounts.
While he instantly replaced the use of abuses with clever sarcasm to get his point across, Dahake could not simply ignore the fact that verbal abuse has the power to hurt. The incident compelled him to revisit his own childhood, and those memories led him to make his next, titled Tujhya Aaila (Up Your Mother’s). The Marathi language film has been selected to premiere at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI)’s, Indian Panorama section, which will be held in November.
The story revolves around a 12-year-old urban boy who joins a school in rural Maharashtra after his family moves to a village following his father’s transfer. Unacquainted with the rural ways, the boy is in for a shock when he is exposed to the culture of verbal abuse prevalent among his fellow-students. And while he works hard to adapt and blend in, the events around him make him question the
very practice of verbal abuse that exists in society.
“I was in Class 4 when my parents decided to send me to a boarding school near Kolhapur. Since I had until then been brought up in Pune, the shift was drastic. My schoolmates may have been well off but they came from a rural, vernacular background and verbal abuse was a part of their nomenclature,” says the 33-year-old filmmaker. The most common pastime, in fact, was a game that required each participating boy to come up with an innovative adjective. “It had to be crude, inventive and almost always had the mother or sister at its core. The game also came with its own set of rules — we were not allowed to get personal and we could not evoke the names of gods. Whoever flinched at its crudeness was the one ousted of
This game forms the centrepiece of Tujhya Aaila and is also where it derives its title. And during his own years at the school, Dahake’s priority remained to fit in, his key character, Avinash, sets out on a journey to trace the roots of verbal abuse, why does it offend and how women came to unwittingly be at the centre of it.
Shot in Phaltan near Pune, the film has nearly 40 children as part of the cast, most of who were selected through auditions and workshops. However, since they were mostly from the set-up that the film explores, the use of foul language did not become a deterrent while shooting,
There is also an underlying layer of violence that runs throughout. The film looks at bullying, competition among the boys, sexuality, discrimination based on caste and religion, and the latter is borrowed from Dahake’s later years in an RSS-run school. “By the time I reached Class 8, my parents felt I had had enough of the boarding school and rural life. So they brought me back to Pune and admitted me to a school run by the RSS. At the time, it felt normal but when I look back at those years, I see how violence was being instilled in us.”
Dahake says that their history book depicted Shivaji tearing through the stomach of Afzal Khan. “And when our teachers would narrate the story, they would refer to the Mughals as dadhiwale. The choice of words was violent too, so many of us would believe that the dadhiwalas are meant to be eliminated. In fact, we would follow in the steps of our teachers and refer to our Muslim classmates by generic names like Changez Khan. It became the norm,” he explains.
Although Dahake was concerned about censorship while making Tujhya Aaila and submitting it for IFFI, he was relieved to find out that the jury understood the spirit of the film. “At the heart of it, the film is a coming-of-age story of the boy, much like my debut Shala. Verbal abuse is anarchy by children against the so-called discipline being imposed on them. What they do not realise, much like I did not until recently, is how it has an ability to affect both the one abusing and also the one being abused.”
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